Robert Todd Lincoln–A Life of Synchronicities

Robert Todd Lincoln as a
young man–rather dashing!

I heard an odd bit of trivia concerning the eldest son of Abraham Lincoln.

I’ve always heard lots about poor Willie, who died while in the White House, and Tad, called a “notorious hellion” by observers. They say he even charged people to see his father, but that’s a bit off-topic.

Robert was the only son to reach adulthood and was enrolled in Harvard during the Civil War years. Mary Todd kept him out of the war until the final months when he was made a captain and served on Grant’s immediate staff. Understandably, this embarrassed young Robert Lincoln. As it should have.

Abe and Mary Todd invited Robert to accompany them to the Ford Theater the night of his father’s assassination, but he declined. Once tragedy struck, the son rushed to his father’s side and was with Abe Lincoln at the time of his death.

Notable, but not odd. On to some eerie coincidences. Robert Todd Lincoln was present at two presidential assassinations and I’m not counting his father’s.

As James Garfield’s Secretary of War in 1881, Robert was with Garfield at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington, DC when the president was shot. The leader hung on for eleven weeks, then died.

Twenty years later, President William McKinley invited Lincoln to accompany him to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. There, an anarchist shot McKinley in the abdomen, resulting in his death about a week later.

Robert Lincoln was later invited to another presidential event, but before anyone else could say it, he responded, “No, I’m not going, and they’d better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.”

There have been four fatal assassinations of presidents of the United States in our history. Robert Todd Lincoln was in attendance or arrived shortly thereafter for three of them.

Now for good measure, one more odd coincidence. While in college, Robert Todd Lincoln was jostled on a crowded railroad platform in Jersey City until he was crushed against the train. In later years he wrote, “In this situation the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless.”
Run, Robert! Run!

Suddenly, a rescuer grabbed his coat collar and hauled Lincoln to safety. He turned to thank his rescuer, only to find it was the famous actor, Edwin Booth.

Robert told of the incident to a colleague on Grant’s staff who happened to be Edwin Booth’s friend. The friend wrote Booth of the incident, who remembered it, but had had no idea the young man was the president’s son. They say it was a comfort to him in later years after his brother, John Wilkes’s dirty deeds.

Robert Todd Lincoln lived to the ripe old age of eighty-two–not the rock star his father had been, but witness to some of the most momentous events of his lifetime.

An intelligent Forrest Gump, you might say.

NOTE: This article was reworked from a previous post on my private blog.

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